- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Vice President Joseph R. Biden delivered a stern warning to Russia during a Tuesday visit to Kiev in which he promised Ukraine millions of dollars in additional aid. But within hours of his departure, Ukrainian accusations of torture by pro-Russia forces further dimmed prospects for peace.

Ukraine’s interim government, which met with Mr. Biden, said insurgents loyal to Moscow kidnapped and tortured two Ukrainians, including a member of the Slovyansk city council. Leaders in Kiev also said one of their military aircraft was hit by gunfire, and pro-Russia forces — whom one top Ukrainian official dubbed “gangsters” — continued to occupy government buildings in eastern Ukraine.

The aggressive moves led Ukrainian leaders to order their security forces to restart counterterrorism operations, and Ukraine’s top security official told reporters that his service was holding Russian military provocateurs as prisoners in Kiev.

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The standoff has escalated despite last week’s peace agreement between the two sides, which is now in danger of falling apart.

Standing alongside Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Mr. Biden implored Moscow to step back or risk further punishment from the U.S. and its allies.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses members of the Ukrainian parliament during a meeting Tuesday, April 22, 21014, in Kiev. Biden's visit to Ukraine comes at a crucial time, days after an international agreement was reached aimed at quelling violence in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Sergei Supinsky, Pool)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses members of the Ukrainian parliament during ... more >

“We’ve heard a lot from Russian officials in the past few days, but now it’s time for Russia to stop talking and start acting. Act on the commitment that they made — to get pro-Russian separatists to vacate buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and address their grievances politically,” he said.

“We need to see these kind of concrete steps. We need to see them without delay. We will not allow this to become an open-ended process. Time is short in which to make progress,” he said.

The vice president said the U.S. and its allies will never recognize the Russian-backed secession vote last month on Ukraine’s strategic Crimean Peninsula.

In a phone call Tuesday to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State John F. Kerry similarly implored the Kremlin to “de-escalate” the crisis and warned of more sanctions.

He urged Russia to “tone down escalatory rhetoric, engage diplomatically in the east with [the Europeans] and Ukrainian government, and issue public statements calling for those occupying buildings to disarm and stand down in exchange for amnesty,” a senior State Department official told reporters in Washington on the condition of anonymity.

The White House reiterated that Russia has days, not weeks, to change its course of action or face another round of economic sanctions. The administration already has targeted and frozen the assets of top Russian officials, including some in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, and a Russian bank.

On a parallel track, the U.S. has offered aid to Ukraine. In Kiev, Mr. Biden announced another $50 million, including money to help run fair and safe elections May 25 and to help Ukraine begin to break its dependence on Russian natural gas.

The White House also will give $8 million in nonlethal aid to Ukraine’s military, including communications gear and vehicles.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that it would send about 600 troops to Eastern Europe to reassure allies that the U.S. will not allow Russia to once again dominate the region.

Army companies will conduct exercises in Poland starting Wednesday and then next week in the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. All four countries are members of NATO, whose charter declares that an attack on one member is an attack on all. The Defense Department said it intends to keep a “rotational presence persistent throughout the rest of this year.”

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